Methane in the Atmosphere

What is Methane?

Methane is a colorless, tasteless and odorless natural substance that is produced through biological processes as well as technological processes or synthetic means. When released to the atmosphere it takes up to 15 years to break down due to the presence of water vapor and oxygen.

Uses of methane

Methane in the form of industrial gas in used in several industries. It is also a common fabric, anti-freeze, plastic and fertilizer ingredient. Petroleum refineries, food processors and companies that work with glass, clay and stone use the energy released when methane is burned.

Methane based combustion helps businesses to dehumidify, sanitize, melt and dry their products.

Home uses

According to the Natural gas supply association, methane as natural gas is cheaper than electricity. Its home uses vary. Some consumers use it to cool and heat their home while others use it as a source of energy when cooking.

Sources of methane in the atmosphere

As a green house gas, methane ranks second to carbon dioxide and its level is on the rise. There are both natural and human sources of methane. The main natural sources include:

  • Oceans
  • Wetlands
  • Termites
  • These natural sources create about 35 percent of methane emission

Human sources include:

  • Livestock farming
  • Landfills
  • Production, transportation and use of fossil fuels.

These human sources create the majority of methane emission which accounts for about 65 per cent.

About 800,000 years ago before the industrial revolution, methane concentration was varied between 350-800ppb, but human activities such as intensive farming and burning of fossil fuels are now emitting methane a lot faster than the earth can remove it. Human activities like fossil fuel use and intensive farming creating methane emissions a lot faster than the Earth can remove them.

The production, distribution, and combustion of fossil fuels are the leading human source of methane. It creates about 33 percent of methane emission.

Methane is produced every time fossil fuels are extracted from the earth. Whether natural has which is the major component of methane, petroleum or coal. More methane is released during the transportation or refinement of fossil fuel. Finally, some methane is also emitted during fossil fuel combustion.

No combustion process is 100 percent efficient. Therefore, when fossil fuel is used to make electricity, power cars, or produce heat, some methane is emitted into the atmosphere.

The production, distribution, and use of fossil fuel, emits about 110 million tonnes of methane per year.

Another leading human source of methane is the enteric fermentation in farm animals. It creates about 28 per cent of human methane emission.

Livestock such as camel, buffalo, cattle, goats, and sheep have unique four chambered stomachs. In the chamber known as rumen, bacteria breaks down the food and generates methane as a by product. Since human raise most of these animals for food, their emission is human related.

These grass eating animals create 90 million tonnes of methane every year.

The effect of methane in the atmosphere

The major effect of methane in the atmosphere is on the global scale. Though it only accounts for 14 percent of greenhouse gas emission, its high global warming potential – it traps 86 times more meat than carbon dioxide ranking it among the world greenhouse gas.

On a local scale, the build of methane poses an explosion hazard that can result in the evacuation of the most affected areas.

Compared to other volatile compounds, methane greatly contributes to the formation of photochemical or ozone smogs.

Compared to other volatile compounds, methane greatly contributes to the formation of photochemical or ozone smogs.

Other effects of methane emission include:

  • Ocean acidification
  • Ozone depletion
  • Changes to plant growth and nutrition levels.

Reducing methane in the atmosphere

The following ways can be implemented to help reduce the emission of methane into the atmosphere.

Upgrading the equipment used to produce, store and transport fossil fuels to reduce methane leakage.

Methane from coal mines be captured and used to produce energy.

Methane emission can also be reduced by altering the manure management strategies at livestock operations. The methane produced by livestock can be channeled to homes to produce energy for cooking.

Lastly, since landfills emit a significant amount of methane, emission control methods to capture it can be implemented.